Steven Gerrard: 'It's lows not highs that make you a better player'

The England captain knows first hand that drama off the field can make you stronger. By Ian Herbert

By last night Steven Gerrard had not ventured into the territory of personal turmoil with Wayne Rooney. "Who am I to talk about things like that with Wayne Rooney? He's his own man," he said. But journeying through the elegant streets here brought the cold chill of recollection for the England captain about how it feels to be assailed by troubles back home and to attempt to put them aside when the football starts.

It was in Basle's St Jakob-Park Stadium that England's captain experienced what he remembered last night as one of his worst moments in football: Liverpool's arrival to face the local side in the 2002-03 Champions League group stage. His parents, Paul and Julie, were in the throes of the divorce which devastated him, and his form was painful to behold. Liverpool were 3-0 down by half-time and Gerrard, utterly ineffectual, was subjected to a rocket by Gérard Houllier and not even sent out for the second half during which he watched Liverpool eliminated, despite levelling the tie 3-3.

Houllier declared late that night that we were witnessing a case of a young star allowing his publicity to run away with him. "I hope he doesn't believe everything that is written in the press about him, but he seems to be a good reader," the then Liverpool manager said of Gerrard. "That is when you start going downwards." Gerrard wrote poignantly in his biography of the effect at the time of his parents' marriage breaking down.

Though his attempts to make light of that yesterday – "that was an excuse. I was just terrible. You have to blame it on something" – seemed to be a product of the levity he has tried to bring to his captain's press conferences in Rio Ferdinand's absence, his was an absorbing description of how it feels when a footballer finds his world caving in.

Gerrard's last moments out on the pitch here before his reacquaintance with it in an energetic training session last night came on the disconsolate, track-suited walk he took to the Liverpool fans whose Champions League hopes were dead for another year, though the message for Rooney is that personal calamity can sometimes form a part of the journey in sport.

"You learn from things like that that happen to you, throughout your career," Gerrard said. "Highs and lows ... that was certainly a low in my career. I was sitting in the dressing room on my own having been taken off in one of my first Champions League games. The players go back out 3-0 down and you've put in a bad performance. It's a low point, let me tell you – probably one of the worst performances I've put in. I totally deserved to be whipped off at half-time. But it helps you become the player you are. You learn from experience. I'm the player I am today from learning and recovering from my lows, rather than dwelling on my highs."

Looking at Gerrard now – an accomplished international captain, who has somehow evolved into a lot more than the stand-in he has been since Ferdinand's absence – that November night in 2002 seems an eternity away, though Gerrard's court case last year has made him far more acquainted with the need "to separate; to divide" the private and public, as Fabio Capello put it last night. His form during the case actually proved immense, silencing Everton fans' plans to taunt him during the derby game in its midst. "If you have an issue off the pitch, its where you have to park it," Gerrard reflected. "Sometimes football can be a release from it. Once the game's started you're focused on what happens on the pitch, not what's going on off it. I played some of my best football when I was going through the court case. I'm sure, once the game starts, Wayne will focus on the game."

This was proving to be another consummate performance from a player whose brief England captaincy – which may end tonight with Ferdinand possibly back in Premier League action at Everton on Saturday and returning to the international fold for next month's match against Montenegro – seems to have involved an awful lot of "cleaning out the stables", as one writer put it yesterday. The "Terrygate" incident in South Africa, brutal World Cup elimination and now this... "Rio's nearly back though, isn't he?" countered Gerrard. "This is the last time you'll see me here. Enjoy it while I'm here."

It was a smart response, in keeping with those in which, during his brief though challenging tenure as captain, he has hurdled any sense of awkwardness, or attrition, which might exist between himself and his inquisitors. Was that a faintly discernible sense of loss we observed at the thought he must now give up these duties? Gerrard's former Liverpool team-mate Danny Murphy suggested this week that he should be considered as a permanent captain, though the man himself was not falling for that line of conversation.

"You're trying to catch me out... Rio's the captain. I've been the stand-in captain," he said. "I've tried to do the best job I can do. But I've really loved leading the team out, every minute of it, even the games we've lost. I've been proud to lead the team out. I've given everything I've got and, even when Rio's back as captain, I'll continue to lead by example and try and do the best I can."

So for now, a last hurrah of sorts – on paper the toughest game of England's qualifying campaign, with the sub-plot of a another encounter with the striker Alexander Frei, who compounded that forgettable European campaign by spitting at Gerrard when Basle and Liverpool met. "I don't hold grudges, and he's apologised since, so we move on," said Gerrard, who was more absorbed last night with the strength of the Swiss defence. Intriguingly, Gerrard also revealed he had followed the Swiss very closely at the World Cup in order to see midfielder Gökhan Inler, who had been rumoured to be a replacement for Javier Mascherano at Anfield. "I thought he was good, but I don't control which players we sign," Gerrard said.

The captain's preparations did not involve throwing an arm around Rooney's shoulder. "You guys know Wayne like me. I don't think I'll need to," he said. And would he start the game with him? "Yes." So spoke the voice of sometimes bitter experience.

Gerrard by numbers

83 Games the midfielder has started in his 86 caps for England.



19 International goals. His first for England came against Germany in the remarkable 5-1 victory in Munich in September 2001.



14Occasions Gerrard has captained England, winning seven, losing four and drawing three.



3 Different England managers have named him as captain. Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello – including his first match in charge, against Switzerland in 2008.



4Major tournaments played in – 2006 and 2010 World Cups and the 2000 and 2004 European Championships.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick